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Full text of "Mr. Santayana's Aesthetics"

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DISCUSSION. 

MR. SANTAYANA'S AESTHETICS. 

The notice of Mr. Santayana's Sense of Beauty contributed by Dr. 
Logan to the March number of the Review, while highly apprecia- 
tive of the book as a whole, is largely taken up with an argument 
against its cardinal doctrine. Upon this criticism, and upon two 
fundamental assumptions — one expressed, the other suggested — 
in Mr. Santayana's work, I desire to comment briefly. 

i. Dr. Logan finds that in concluding beauty to be in its essence 
pleasure objectified, or pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing, 
Mr. Santayana has failed to define the term ; for this analysis id) 
does not determine the nature of aesthetic perception, but (U) notes 
an effect of it, viz., that our pleasure in its object is devoid of all 
subjective references, and (c) takes no account of the distinction, 
recognized by Mr. Santayana himself, between morality and beauty 
as respectively demand for and possession of the same good. 

These criticisms seem to me to show in the main that Mr. San- 
tayana and his critic disagree ; but not at all, as their form would 
suggest, that Mr. Santayana has not consistently carried out his own 
principles, (a) Mr. Santayana certainly does not regard beauty and 
the perception of it as one and the same thing, and if they are not, 
Dr. Logan's argument becomes a non sequitur ; for to leave unde- 
termined the nature of the act, is not necessarily to fail in defining 
that upon which it is performed, (b) Dr. Logan's claim that the 
objectification of pleasure is the effect of aesthetic perception can 
in no wise be allowed, it seems to me, from Mr. Santayana's stand- 
point. Aesthetic perception, according to Dr. Logan, is perception 
in which there is absolute concord between the functions of percep- 
tion and the thing perceived, and the necessary result to the per- 
cipient of this absolute harmony between his faculties and their 
object, is unalloyed and completely objective pleasure. Mr. San- 
tayana would admit, if I understand him, only that our pleasure in 
an object is a sign of some correspondence therein with our powers 
of perception, and would deny that our incorporation of that pleas- 
ure in the object is a sign of the absoluteness of this correspond- 
ence ; else beautiful things would always be sources of pure delight 
to us, and the beauty of Comedy or Tragedy would be unreal be- 



402 THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW. [Vol. VI. 

cause imperfect, (c) The distinction Dr. Logan emphasizes between 
moral values as remote and aesthetic values as immediate, seems to 
me fully applied in Mr. Santayana's definition. In calling beauty 
pleasure, and morality at most only the pursuit of it, he calls the 
former intrinsic and the latter derivative good. Mr. Santayana 
maintains further that mainly and fundamentally morality has not 
to do with pleasure at all, but with the avoidance of pain. 

In a word, Dr. Logan and Mr. Santayana appear to differ as fol- 
lows : to the one beauty is a perception, to the other that which is 
perceived ; to the one it is the sign of perfection in the object, to 
the other it is merely the sign of some excellence therein ; to the one 
morality is wholly an affirmation of good, to the other mainly a 
negation of evil. Whether true or not Mr. Santayana's theory is, 
it seems to me, consistent, and one of the clearest, simplest, and 
most adequate that has ever been advanced on this subject. 

2. The fundamental proposition about value laid down at the out- 
set by Mr. Santayana as an axiom in the words, "There is no value 
apart from some appreciation of it," is, if I understand him aright, 
Lotze's affirmation, " Nichts bejaht sich so unbedingt und so unmit- 
telbar in seinem Werthe als die Lust," expressed absolutely. This 
assertion is the simultaneous statement of two independent proposi- 
tions, — that pleasure is immediate value, and that immediate value 
is pleasure. It is then possible to find the principle in part axio- 
matic, and in part dubitable, or even untrue. In Mr. Santayana's 
statement that " all worth leads back to actual feeling somewhere or 
else evaporates to nothing," the positive element may be accepted 
while the negative is questioned. Mr. Santayana writes in further 
explanation of his position : " Obedience to God or reason can 
originally recommend itself to a man only as the surest and ulti- 
mately least painful way of balancing his aims and synthesizing his 
desires. So necessary is this sanction even to the most impetuous 
natures, that no martyr would go to the stake did he not believe that 
the powers of nature in the day of judgment would be on his side." 
Yet it is the contrary possibility that is assumed in the old theologi- 
cal opinion, that man should even be willing to be damned that God 
might be glorified. Obedience to God's will, according to this latter 
belief, should still recommend itself even though it involve our eter- 
nal death. To convince oneself that there is ultimate value in the 
intellectual sphere may be more difficult, but it is surely possible at 
least to doubt that either the nobility of duty or the dignity of truth 
can by any psychological chemistry be wholly produced out of the 



No. 4.] DISCUSSION. 403 

flight from pain and the pursuit of pleasure. The possibility implied 
in this doubt is that our ultimate meaning in ascribing worth to any- 
thing may not be a simple one and expressible in terms of feeling 
only, but may be a complex of three alternative meanings expressible 
respectively in terms of feeling, will, and idea. Such a reservation 
of the judgment regarding fundamentals of ethics and logic need not, 
it seems to me, prevent our acceptance of Mr. Santayana's aesthetics. 

3. Some of Mr. Santayana's references to the principle of natural 
selection might easily, I think, mislead the reader into conceiving 
the Darwinistic idea as a theory of the genesis of things as well as 
what alone it is, a theory of their fate. In § 38 we read : " Utility 
(or, as it is now called, adaptation and natural selection) organizes 
the material world into definite species and individuals." But it 
does not do this unless on the supposition that it has all possibilities 
to work upon. Again, in § 64, Mr. Santayana remarks incidentally 
that " the tendency of nature to establish well-marked species of 
animals shows what various combinations are most stable in the face 
of physical forces." But it does not show this unless we assume 
that the universe tries all experiments in the matter. These state- 
ments therefore imply, if we take them literally, a definite theory of 
the origin of things, viz., their fortuitous production. This theory, 
or any theory of inceptions, is neither a part nor an implication of 
the doctrine of natural selection, but in reality a nullification of its 
result to our thought ; for the Darwinistic principle is essentially 
an instrument of scepticism about the beginnings of things, making 
a purely negative contribution to our reasoning thereupon. The 
content of the doctrine of survival is expressed in the assertion that 
the fortuitous occurrence in an object of any quality useful to it, 
tends in time to take on the aspect of occurrence by law. The 
result of the doctrine is to deprive characters, seen to be advanta- 
geous to objects possessing them, of any weight as evidence either 
for or against either of these two alternative hypotheses of their 
origin therein. 

But with this sceptical deliverance, the sum total of the theory of 
utility, no one can rest content. Some exterior influence inevitably 
asserts itself in favor of one or other of the possibilities which the 
evidence of utility leaves open. The influence that inclines so many 
minds at present toward the hypothesis of fortuitous origins is not, I 
conceive, at bottom a rational consideration, but an aesthetic prefer- 
ence, being that species of susceptibility to formal beauty which 
demands symmetry and balance in things. For the hypothesis of 



404 THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW. 

chance involves the conception that corresponding to every one of 
the given objects there exists in nature another, identical with it in 
every respect save in the single point that it possesses (or lacks) the 
useful quality in question ; and this conception fully satisfies that 
demand. (The assertion that there exists in nature no object 0' 
possessing the quality q, is the expression of a law which concerns 
the occurrence of q in the object 0; while the hypothesis of chance 
denies the existence of any such laws.) 

Equally possible, and doubtless on the whole more common, is the 
opposite aesthetic attitude, in which it is the actuality of all possi- 
bilities that is felt as the unnatural supposition, and the monotonous 
levels of chance that commend themselves less than the varied pros- 
pects of law. This opposite instinct will inspire an opposite use of 
the Darwinian freedom, — against evolution from fortuity and in 
favor of a development based on law. Either decision marks an 
advance from the Darwinian negation to an affirmative theory of 
origins ; that of the adherents of development no less than that of 
the believers in evolution, but also no more than theirs. If the 
above account of its source be correct, the partiality shown in con- 
temporary thought for evolutionary theories may be connected 
through an interesting observation of Mr. Santayana's (§ 27) with 
our modern enthusiasm for democratic ideals ; for in this, too, 
according to him, the aesthetic charm of uniformity in multiplicity 

has no inconsiderable share. „ T _, 

Benj. Ives Oilman.